Taking it back

Mark Vaughan-Jackson
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With all due respect to the St. John’s city council and its efforts to buy the former Scouts Canada property on Terra Nova Road, it does look like the good folks at the city are trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

And, finding themselves suddenly without cake, they’ve simply decided to expropriate the pastry.

A little history first: Scouts Canada was given the land at 15 Terra Nova Rd. by the city for a dollar in the ’70s.

The Scouts built there but later decided to sell the property.

The city offered to buy the property back, but didn’t offer a high enough price. They were outbid by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). The CMHA saw the building as a good fit for their needs — unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ll get it, because the city now plans to expropriate and pay the higher price that it wasn’t willing to offer before.

If you’re wondering whether the city’s allowed to do that, well, Section 96 of the City of St. John’s Act is pretty broad: “(1) Where the council determines by resolution that land, either with or without buildings on it, or an interest in lands, situated in or near the city, is or may be required by the city for a public work or service of the city or for the purpose of a land assembly, land development, housing or building project or a parking area or lot approved by the council or for the purpose of the erection by the council, or by the government or another public body or corporation under arrangement with the council, of dwelling houses under a housing scheme which the council considers necessary or desirable, the council may contract for the purchase of the land or interest in the land with the owner.

“(2) Where a contract referred to in subsection (1) cannot be made, or where it is advisable to do so, the council may by resolution determine to expropriate the land or interest in the land, and the value of the land or interest shall be determined by arbitration as provided in this act.”

Determining that a building or property “is, or may be required” is a pretty low threshold.

But it does make you wonder if that kind of power lets the city operate with something less than good faith.

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the city’s first offer could be a lowball price, made with the knowledge that they could always expropriate if things went awry.

But back to this particular property: it will be interesting to see what kind of tangle the city finds itself in now. After all, the Scouts apparently have a binding purchase offer from the CMHA.

Instead of expropriating it from the Scouts, the city may end up having to expropriate the property from the CMHA, and might find itself having to cover the CMHA’s expenses in the purchase.

It’s a pretty tangled little scenario for a piece of property that councillors may want. Judging by Monday’s council meeting, they haven’t even figured out what they want the property for.

Organizations: Scouts Canada

Geographic location: Terra Nova

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